Time bombs ticking for the Yingluck government

The Pheu Thai-led administration will only undermine itself if it doesn't stop playing with hot-button issues

Political time bombs are not being laid by outsiders but by the Yingluck Shinawatra government itself, observed Post Today.

Pongsapat Pongcharoen and Sudarat Keyuraphan are both in the running to represent the Pheu Thai Party in the Bangkok governor election.

The first and most prominent of these is the government's rice pledging scheme. Academics, political observers and independent organisations have tried in vain to convince the government that the scheme will lead the country into bankruptcy but the administration has stood its ground, citing the mantra that it is a good policy that benefits farmers.

Ms Yingluck herself declared in the House of Representatives that she did not care how much the rice stockpile accumulates as long as the country's farmers get more money.

It is true that the rice pledging scheme was the big promise Pheu Thai made to woo farmers during last year's general election campaign. It is also true that this scheme has now become a time bomb because of allegations of corruption. The government has yet to clarify the specifics of its 7.3 million tonnes of G-to-G rice sales and its claims of having already sold the rice stockpile.

During the no-confidence debate, the opposition raised the question of a dummy company posing as a representative of the Chinese government to buy rice from the stockpile at a special price.

Meanwhile, rice exporters claim they have yet to see any evidence that the government has exported rice to seven countries on a G-to-G basis.

They claimed that in the past year, there is only evidence that the government had shipped rice to Indonesia, and not to any other country, and that the rice stockpile is overwhelming the warehouse capacity.

It is true that Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom said he would appoint a committee to examine G-to-G rice deals from the past three years before transferring the inquiry to the Department of Special Investigation.

Post Today wondered why this government did not try to find out the truth about the opposition's accusation that a dummy company was representing the Chinese government. Instead, it expanded the inquiry to include the preceding Abhisit Vejjajiva government, even though when Pheu Thai was the opposition, it did not raise the issue of any G-to-G rice deals at that time.

By trying to extend the inquiry to cover the Abhisit administration, it will take longer to shed light on the alleged collusion between the Commerce Ministry and a certain businessman who set up the alleged dummy company. It seems this government does not want to uncover the truth quickly, which means the time bomb will only continue to grow in explosive power.

Meanwhile, the National Anti-Corruption Commission is waiting to receive evidence from the opposition Democrat Party before appointing a working committee to probe the rice corruption allegations.

Another political time bomb is the comprehensive flood management infrastructure investment worth billions of baht which the Yingluck government passed in a cabinet resolution, bypassing the normal open bid regulation as specified in the Prime Minister Office's regulation B.E. 2535 and the electronics procurement regulation B.E. 2549.

The cabinet's resolution empowers the flood management committee to use any means for this special project, reasoning that it is "urgent". However, Post Today reckons that it is another channel for possible corruption as the special procurement will not be subject to scrutiny as is the case in the normal government procurement process.

The government's rice pledging scheme and the flood management project's special procurement are contrary to what the government presented in a large poster of Ms Yingluck with a group of people under the banner: "To improve Thailand's international image, please cooperate to stop corruption". The poster was put up in front of the Civil Service Commission, opposite Government House.

It is ironic that the government is calling on the public to help combat corruption but fails itself to set a good example by ignoring allegations of corrupt practices, Post Today says.

The newspaper warns that no matter how strong the government's command of seats in the House of Representatives, or how solid the support of the red shirts, it could be toppled if it allows corruption to continue unchecked.

Apart from the corruption-related time bombs, Post Today cited the attempt of the Yingluck government to hand over Thailand's judicial independence to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to prosecute individuals for genocide and crimes against humanity in an attempt to punish the Abhisit government for ordering troops to crack down on the red-shirt protests of 2010, resulting in nearly 100 deaths and scores of injuries.

Another time bomb is the government's attempt to proceed with the third reading of the constitution rewrite as well as to push for the national reconciliation bill, apparently to smooth the path for exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to come back to Thailand without having to serve his jail term.

Post Today wondered why the Yingluck government likes to play with so many time bombs. If the government administers the country normally without playing with such explosive issues, it will surely survive a full term.

Time for city governor candidates to be named

When it became clear that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra wanted to field deputy police chief Pongsapat Pongcharoen to contest the Bangkok governor election in February as Pheu Thai's candidate, she was immediately countered, noted Thai Rath.

Pheu Thai MP for Bangkok Jirayu Huangsap announced that Sudarat Keyuraphan, the core leader of Pheu Thai's Bangkok group, had accepted the call for her to contest the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) poll.

Mr Jirayu said Khunying Sudarat is suitable as she has had extensive experience in political spheres and city issues.

If Pheu Thai decides to field Khunying Sudarat, he was confident that she would win the election.

Meanwhile, Pheu Thai's BMA councillors team submitted a letter to the party with the names of more than 350 BMA councillors, district councillors and Bangkok MPs who want Khunying Sudarat to contest the election.

Looking at Khunying Sudarat's profile, it can be seen that she has an outstanding record in politics and management, with experience in several ministries including Interior, Public Health and Agriculture. She also used to work with a team tackling Bangkok's notorious traffic problems.

However, the Thai Rath writer noted that Khunying Sudarat did not see eye to eye with Ms Yingluck, who preferred Pol Gen Pongsapat as he would be easier to control. Previously, Ms Yingluck had tried to float the candidacy of Transport Minister Chatchart Sithipan but this idea was rejected because he was relatively inexperienced.

It is now obvious that Pheu Thai's big shots are engaged in faction fighting, and this conflict may continue until the last minute even though candidates for the city poll should have been finalised by now.

Why should it take so long for Pheu Thai to officially announce its BMA candidate? Thai Rath speculated that the candidate must have an exemplary profile to have a chance of winning.

At the same time, the candidate must toe the party line, and in particular must serve those in Pheu Thai who have power. It is not easy to find a suitable candidate under such criteria.

Meanwhile, the Democrat Party now appears ready to field its incumbent governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra for re-election, based on the resolution of its vetting committee.

The background lobbying is reported to be intense as MR Sukhumbhand is perceived to have not made any outstanding achievements during his four-year term.

The party also has to answer questions about why the BMA failed to build the futsal stadium in time to host the Futsal World Cup in November.

It is rumoured that deputy party leader Korn Chatikavanij, who controls the party's Bangkok group, has contemplated contesting the governor election as he would have to wait a long time before Mr Abhisit steps down from the party leadership.

Another rumour suggests that Mr Korn would like to field Kalaya Sophonpanich, as Mr Korn perceives that MR Sukhumbhand has a lot to answer for over his four-year administration of the capital.

Consumer confidence hits 14-month high

The Economic and Business Forecast Centre of the Thai Chamber of Commerce University revealed the consumer confidence index for November was at 79.1, compared to 77.8 in October - the highest in 14 months.

The centre attributed the rising confidence to the swift conclusion of the Pitak Siam rally, the Bank of Thailand's Monetary Policy Committee retaining the 2.75% policy rate, and the introduction of the 300-baht minimum wage in seven provinces since April.

Centre director Thanawat Polvichai noted that even though the index was at its highest in 14 months, the fact that it was still below 100 means that consumers remain uncertain about the state of the economy such as exports slowing, the rising costs of energy and a precarious political environment.